Saturday, 31 May 2014


The play The Duchess of Malfi was on BBC Four last week. It was written by John Webster in 1614 and so it is Shakespearean without being by Shakespeare. I watched it and enjoyed it very much, it is the sort of thing I think there should be more of on TV.

For me the standout performances were Sean Gilder as Bosola and James Garnon as Cardinal Malfi. They were both funny at times and serious at other times, playing baddys in a conspiracy who then fell out with each other leading to their downfall. It is a Tragedy so most of the characters die at the end.

I hope they will be in the new series of The Hollow Crown when the BBC makes that.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Haven

Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy beam down to planet 435 where they meet Carnak, a being with advanced and powerful technology that gives him mental control over the inhabitants. Captain Kirk engages Carnak in a battle of wills and defeats him, restoring order to the planet. The three beam back to the Enterprise where Captain Kirk makes a joke and we end with everybody laughing.

The Haven reads like a typical Star Trek story, except that it has the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan in place of Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy.

At the Haven they meet Carnak, who is inaccurately described as "an ageless man." He is in charge of 49,867 mannys, all of whom have gone
and all of whom are being kept in suspended animation until Carnak needs them to be his remote-controlled henchmannys.

"You mean they're held in a state of suspended animation?" asked Tegan. "Like they used to freeze bodies in America in the 1980s, so that when medical science progressed they could be cured of whatever killed them and live again?"
"That is correct," the man said. "That was the start of the perfection of the science of cryogenics. By the year 1990 we knew all the secrets of freezing human bodies. These people wait here in The Haven, in my care, until it is time for them to reawaken."

Some of the mannys have been here since 1993, and it is now 2330. Obviously this was still the far and distant future when this story was written in the early 1980s, so we cannot hold their inaccurate predictions of human colonies on other planets by 1993 against them.

The Doctor leaves the Haven but then sneaks back in to investigate the bodies because he and Nyssa have a feeling that there is something going on, and there are still three pages of the story left to go.

They are immediately captured by Carnak, who decides to freeze them. The Doctor comes up with a plan to defeat Carnak.
"I'm going to have to indulge in a bout of mind-wrestling with Carnak," the Doctor replied. "I'll have to try to overcome his will with mine, and thus put his control out of action. Without that control the guards revert to what they really are-frozen bodies."

Nyssa and Tegan's part in the plan is for them to wait until the guards are distracted by the battle of wills and then leg it with the Doctor on a trolley. Realising that the story is under-running, and there is still over a page left to go, they pad it out by explaining this plan in detail at length.
This was never going to be a great story, but could have been improved if it had been tighter.

The Doctor makes a face but, of course, he wins the battle of wills and they escape back to the Tardis.

"What will happen to the guards now-and all the other people?"
"I don't really know, but one thing's for sure-somehow or other I did manage to destroy Carnak's control for ever. He won't be able to control the guards now."

So that's alright then.

"And the other people?"
"I don't think you can think of them as people," said the Doctor thoughtfully. "They have human bodies, yes, but they cannot be said to be living beings. Their bodies were kept intact by freezing, but it was an outer shell with no living centre. They were-and are-dead."


Never mind, there's still time for the story to end on a joke to cheer us all up after that downbeat note.

"So where are we heading now, Doctor?" Nyssa asked.
The Doctor gave an almost imperceptible shiver. "I don't know," he said, "but somewhere warm I think, don't you?"

Even Davo looks unimpressed with this ending. Overall this is not a good story, with few original ideas and mediocre execution of them on top.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Countdown Starts Now

Countdown is one of my favourite Blakes 7 episodes, probably my most favourite out of the whole of the first two seasons. I have already reviewed it here but that was in 2010 which was a long time ago, and anyway this post will have more pictures of Avon in it!

Obviously that's not Avon; that's Space Major Provine, the baddy for this episode. He is played by Paul Shelley (who was also really good in Secret Army, which was made around the same time as this) and manages to be almost as good at being a baddy in this one episode as Travis manages in the whole season.

Blake is looking for Space Major Provine to tell him about Star One, but that plotline occupies very little of the episode. Most of it is about trying to stop Space Major Provine's bomb that will blow the planet up, and that job is up to Avon. It is made even more complicated when Avon meets Del Grant, played by Tom CHAAAAADBON! Del Grant has not been in Blakes 7 before, or even mentioned before this episode, but the two actors instantly convey their shared backstory through their facial expressions upon their first meeting.


But there isn't time for them to fight, or even to make up and have hugs and kiffs, because they have to work together to stop the bomb from blowing up the planet.

Blake looks a bit left out in the background there. I think this episode is where Paul Darrow really makes an effort to take over the series in his superlative acting in his scenes with Grant. He is helped by Terry Nation's script, which sees Avon and Grant work out their differences as they work together on the bomb.

They work very closely together. Blake would be jealous. Avon is very quiet as he explains to Grant what happened to him and Anna, Grant's sister.

Contrast that with the scene where Blake questions Space Major Provine. Gareth Thomas suddenly hams it up, as if it is Blake who is dying instead of Space Major Provine. Maybe he was just projecting his jealousy issues with Avon on to poor Space Major Provine?
Anyhow, Paul Shelley just about manages to salvage this scene, and Blake and Vila get the necessary exposition about Docholli and Star One from him to set up the story arc for the rest of season 2.

Avon seems to be enjoying himself, smiling (purr purr) as he puts himself in danger to help save the planet even when he doesn't need to. Not for the first time and not for the last.

The roof collapses on Avon and Grant, forcing them to get physically close together just as their shared experience has forced them to get emotionally close. They save the day and become good friends.

Back on the Liberator, instead of having hugs and kiffs they have a manly handshake to show how good friends they have become. Maybe they had hugs and kiffs offscreen?

But Avon's new friendship with Del Grant has created a coolness between him and Blake. Blake wants to know about Anna, but Avon is unwilling to share that with him.

The episode ends with them sharing a look, but something has changed between them. Avon's backstory has begun to come out, and things will never be the same again...

Sunday, 18 May 2014

It Ends With A Kiss

"Moons of madness, why am I encumbered with incompetents?"
"Supreme Commander, sir."
"Your report, Mister Fibuli."

"Yes, sir. I have it."
"It is thirty seconds late."
"Yes, sir."

"My qualities are many, Mister Fibuli."
"Oh, yes, sir. I..."
"But an infinite capacity for patience is not amongst them."

Hostage is a very poor episode of Blakes 7, though the first half is decent. It only goes wrong when Blake and Avon teleport down to the planet to meet Travis, knowing it is a trap, and then all have to act really stupid so they can get captured - unforgivable behaviour, especially in Avon's case.

And Travis's "Crimo" henchmannys have the wrong tone for Blakes 7, they just feel out of place and are impossible to take seriously being called "Crimos."

But the first part of the episode is decent, especially the scene with Servalan and...

...Kevin Stoney, as magnificent as ever and really he is wasted in this minor role where he only has one scene. (I know Kevin Stoney comes back in season 4's Animals, but it is as a different character and he is wasted in that one too.)

Meanwhile, Blake and Avon get captured by Travis...

"How are we going to escape?"
"From this situation?"
"From this terrible episode."

"Lets hope the script improves from here."
"Yes, I'm hoping for an amazing escape, an action sequence on film, then a hug and a kiff to finish with."
"That would be an improvement."

"Phew, what an amazing escape."

Actually they get rescued by the guest characters Ushton and Inga. (Ushton is Blake's uncle, and Ushton is played by Arnold Rimmer's Dad, John Abineri, so does that mean Blake is related to Rimmer?)

"This is an improvement. Have you been bribing the Script Editor again, Paul?"

Yes, this is definitely a big improvement. It's looking like this could end up being the best episode of Blakes 7 ever.

No, Blake, no! You're kiffing the wrong one! It's all gone wrong.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

On The Planet Isopterus

This is a terribly lazy story. And I'm a cat saying that! One of the few things about it that is not lazy is the way that here, on the first page, we see the Doctor explain to Adric (today being played by Eartha Kitt) about the device he will later use to solve the plot, instead of just pulling the device out of his pocket as and when he needs it.

On the other paw we here see the TARDIS console looking nothing at all like the TARDIS console usually does.

"Away with him, away with him! he speaks Latin."
-to quote the Bard. It is surprising that Adric knows words of Latin, especially something like "isopterus". But maybe that is a Time Lord gift that the Doctor shares with him? I don't know. I'm only a cat; I don't even speak Latin.

"But they're huge - those mounds must be thousands of feet tall!"
Clearly the budget couldn't support the drawing of huge mounds, but luckily Nyssa is there to tell us how big and impressive they look.

So they get captured by the giant termites and then meet a friend who gives them the exposition. His name may actually be Friend, since he is never called anything else in the rest of the story (another example of laziness).

I think Friend is being played by Lord Clark, presenter of the TV series Civilisation.

An interesting choice of guest star, and a typical example of the sort of stunt-casting that went on in Doctor Who during the 1980s.

Realising that there are only two more pages to go, the Doctor wastes no time in bringing out the gadget from page 1. It is lucky he had it with him, isn't it?

...And so they escape and that's the end of the story. Peter Davison couldn't be bothered to come back to be in the last picture, so they had to get Gary Lineker to stand in for him.

This is a particularly bad story - aside from the laziness I have already mentioned, it has inconsistent artwork and an absence of peril - the potential threat of the giant termites is squandered by them being dealt with so trivially, and they don't even reappear after the third page. It may be only 6 pages long but other stories have managed to make far better use of this limited amount of space. Awful. Mew.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Eurovision 2014

It's the one Caturday night of the year when there's something more fabulous than Blakes 7 on TV, and that night is Eurovision night!

This year was no exception, with many wonderful and fabulous entries (and a few bland or underwhelming entries too, but they can't all be best) from all over Eurovision.

Here are my comments, recorded live as the show was being performed.

1. UKRAINE | Tick-Tock by Mariya Yaremchuk
Manny doing impression of a mouse in a wheel. He should be pounced on like all mouses because mouses are for pounces. Great start.

2. BELARUS | Cheesecake by Teo
Manny with silly hair dancing with his clones.

3. AZERBIJAN | Start a Fire by Dilara Kazimova
Trapeze act slowly getting more impressive while teleporting to different locations, and with a song going on too.

4. ICELAND | No Prejudice by Pollapönk
Very colourful mannys, one of whom is Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost. Fun song. They turned the audience colours too.

5. NORWAY | Silent Storm by Carl Espen
Manny in black with a sad song, very different to the last one and made for an abrupt change of mood. Made me feel sad. I don't want to be a sad cat.

6. ROMANIA | Miracle by Paula Seling and Ovi
Another manny in black with silly hair, like a cross between Belarus and Norway's entries. He has a teleporting friend and a circle piano to help him stand out, and the song did get exciting.

7. ARMENIA | Not Alone by Aram MP3
He has a badge. The Monkeys With Badges like him. He made his badge himself. His song got dramatic and exciting towards the end after a dull start.

8. MONTENEGROMoj svijet by Sergej Ćetković
A skater danced around to try to distract from the blandness of the song.

9. POLAND | We Are Slavic by Donatan and Cleo
Fun costumes and loud singing just as cats like Eurovision songs to be. I'm not sure what the dancers were doing though, it seemed very unorthodox.

10. GREECE | Rise Up by Freaky Fortune feat. RiskyKidd
Leather jackets, trampoline fun, and a great catchy song too.

11. AUSTRIA | Rise Like a Phoenix by Conchita Wurst
This is clearly a James Bond theme song. I am an overexcited cat. I am a sleepy cat. Time for sleeps. Zzzzz.

12. GERMANY | Is It Right by Elaiza
Zzzzz. [I missed it because of sleeps.]

13. SWEDEN | Undo by Sanna Nielsen
Zzzzz... An explosion in the song woke me up in time to see the end of this. I don't think I missed much though.

14. FRANCE | Moustache by TWIN TWIN
Song about a moustache. With very silly hair.

15. RUSSIA | Shine by the villainous Tolmachevy Sisters
Boo! Boo! Russia are the baddys of Eurovision this year.

16. ITALYLa mia città by Emma
One of the Roman gods has returned, meaning to win Eurovision. Where is Captain Kirk when we need him? He knows how to defeat returning ancients gods like that. (Either with hugs and kiffs, or with his own singing.)

17. SLOVENIA | Round and Round by Tinkara Kovač
This tried to be exciting but there have been much better songs already.

18. FINLAND | Something Better by Softengine
Lots of lasers! Neem! Neem! The audience all got lasered.

19. Notorious Eurovision Cheats SPAIN | Dancing in the Rain by Ruth Lorenzo
It's raining inside in Denmark. I hope that doesn't happen here as we don't want to be wet cats. Poor manny got wet while singing. In the rain. From Spain.

20. SWITZERLAND | Hunter of Stars by Sebalter
A spoof Eurovision song by Chris Morris  has turned up in the real thing. (Nobody could tell the difference.)

21. HUNGARY | Running by András Kállay-Saunders
The manny knocked over his chair in his hurry to sing his song. That's passion! He loves Eurovision almost as much as big, gay, long cats do. Who's playing the piano?

22. MALTA | Coming Home by Firelight
Quite good song but a generic performance.

23. DENMARKCliché Love Song by Basim
An all-out comedy song! At last! Amazing dancing too, it reminded me of Tongue Tied.

24. NETHERLANDS | Calm After the Storm by the Common Linnets
Expensive Luxury Cat liked this one, I'm not sure why.

25. SAN MARINO (who?) | Maybe by Valentina Monetta
Another comedy song. In fact, here it is:

Lol, I am a silly cat.

26. UNITED KINGDOMChildren of the Universe by Molly
Children of the Universe sounds like a Blakes 7 episode. Oh wait, I'm thinking of Children of Auron.

Well, Austria won the competition, but it wasn't the best song for me. My best song was from Iceland. Here's why:

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Armageddon Chrysalis

"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought."

This interesting story alternates showing the Doctor's point of view with a first person narration by the evil monster Voorvolika, with his bits in bold to emphasise how scary and powerful he is. Cthulhu says that Voorvolika is one of his friends.

The Armageddon Chrysalis begins with the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan already in peril, having been knocked out by Voorvolika before they even had a chance to leave the Tardis. It is as if Voorvolika was so keen to nom them that he couldn't even wait for the story to start before capturing the Tardis.

The Doctor wakes up and only has time to discover that the Tardis is very low on energy before he falls unconscious again. Then it is time for Voorvolika's first paragraph.
The thing had been given many names, but men called it Voor-volika. Those who had seen it had compared it with a vision of hell. Voorvolika meant evil. Those who had seen it and felt its touch had died. Voorvolika knew that some were feeling its touch now. A tiny thing called Tardis. Living beings whose names would come to it soon. Energy. Voor-volika was hungry. Voorvolika was feeding.

The Doctor wakes up again and this time Tegan and Nyssa are awake too. We get filled in on how they came to be captured by Voorvolika - the Tardis was "approached by an object of immense size" and then they were knocked out. Not much of a flashback really.

Nyssa has gone to look out the window in the "observation room". She screams so the Doctor and Tegan go to where she is and then they look out the window and see Voorvolika (well, a bit of him) too.

The thing pressed up against the thick plastic of the observation port, totally obscuring anything else. Here and there, grotesque suckers adhered to the plastic, releasing sickly white fluids which oozed slowly downwards. Elsewhere, the body crushed inward, fist-thick veins and arteries pulsing with life.

Voorvolika contacts Nyssa telepathically as he begins to nom her energy, and she learns his name. Then we get another Voorvolika bit.
The beings were aware of Voor-volika now. Voorvolika could sense it. What were their names? What had it learned from the one called Nyssa? The names. Tegan. The Doctor. Yes, Voorvolika had touched the one called the Doctor before. It was a strange name, but it had energy. Voorvolika wanted to feed. Voorvolika wanted the energy of the names.

Voorvolika seems to place importance on names, and it is interesting that he gets the Doctor's name from Nyssa, so that if "the Doctor" was not his real name but just what Nyssa knew him as, then he would not know the Doctor's true name.

The Doctor realises that Voorvolika is trying to drain all their energy, so he decides to use the same plan as in Timelash.

No, not that Timelash.

The episode of UFO that is also called Timelash (and which isn't as good because Paul Darrow isn't in it).

In UFO's Timelash Ed Straker takes a dangerous drug to counteract the baddy's effect that is slowing everybody down by speeding him up. The Doctor takes a drug to counteract Voorvolika's effect that is draining everybody's energy.
B929 energy concentrate is a highly potent drug; ten drops have been known to give a man sufficient energy to destroy an army, twelve drops have been known to make a man literally explode with uncontrollable power. The Doctor gave himself eleven drops.

The Doctor puts on a spacesuit and takes a device from the Tardis console for use in his plan later (we don't get to know what his plan is at this point; it is like Mission: Impossible). He then goes outside the Tardis into Voorvolika and it is time for another Voorvolika paragraph.
The tiny being called the Doc-tor was going to fight Voorvolika! He was there, now, ready to enter the body. It could not be permitted! What was he going to do? Voorvolika touched the mind of the being called the Doctor and it knew. The Doctor would die! Voorvolika would touch him more than it had touched any-thing else! The Doctor would touch Voorvolika. All Voorvolika had to do was wait!

Naughty Voorvolika wants to give the Doctor a bad touch.

The Doctor walks around inside Voorvolika and sees the "remains of other beings and ships" that had already been nomed by Voorvolika.
The Doctor hoped that one day another like him would not gaze into the walls and see the shape of a small, dark blue police box.

Voorvolika catches the Doctor in a good old-fashioned sliding walls trap (so much for "All Voorvolika had to do was wait!") and begins to crush him. But because Vooorvolika is trying to squash the Doctor using the inside of his body, the Doctor escapes by squeezing a nerve.

Pain! Voorvolika has never felt pain! Voorvolika must fight! Voorvolika must survive!

"Touched a nerve there," the Doctor doesn't quip, because Davo had some class. As we come to the last page, the Doctor comes to the chamber where Voorvolika keeps both his brain and heart.

It was a grotesque combination of a brain and heart, fused in symbiosis like Siamese twins.

The "brain-heart" attacks the Doctor with energy lightning, but it is the Doctor's turn to trap Voorvolika:
He knew that he had just commenced perhaps the worst fight of his life, and it was one in which he had no intention of fighting back! As he felt the searing heat of the energy columns begin to penetrate his suit, burrowing fingers of flame through the material to search out his flesh, the Doctor looked at the measuring device and saw that his plan was working. Already, the needle had begun to move up the scale...

I am Voorvolika! Voorvolika must not die! Voorvolika must multiply! No! The thing called the Doctor has tricked Voorvolika! The tiny, feeble thing has beaten me! Voorvolika weakens! Energy! So little energy! Voorvolika must kill! So little ener...

...and that is the last of Voorvolika's bits. While this sort of Trojan Horse plan is not an entirely original way for the Doctor to beat the baddys (The Web of Fear, The Masque of Mandragora, and The Myth Makers, to name but three), it is a fitting resolution to this story. Especially as it turns out that Voorvolika is not killed by this, only drained and forced into "suspended animation."

This is a very good story. It is well paced over the course of its seven pages, managing to be scary and exciting with the pictures reinforcing the text, and Voorvolika is an interesting creation, evocatively described.
The Armageddon Chrysalis ends with the Doctor speculating about a possible return for Voorvolika in the future...

As the Tardis spun off through space, the Doctor remembered feeling the mind of the thing touch him. He remembered knowing in that instant that it was totally evil. And he remembered learning with horror exactly what the thing was; an immense galactic grub which slumbered in a chrysalis state, waiting until the day it had fed upon enough innocent souls and space-craft to multiply itself in a terrifying form!
One day, when the effects of suspended animation finally wore off, the thing would awake again and once more begin to prey on life. On that day, thought the Doctor, a certain Time Lord would have to make sure he was nearby. He was not looking forward to it.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The God Machine

Our next story begins with Nyssa and Tegan investigating a stepped pyramid on an alien planet. They get disappeared by something only hazily described, which sets up a mystery without revealing too much in the first paragraph - a promising start.

The next paragraph is about the Doctor, back at the Tardis, when he gets concerned about how long Nyssa and Tegan have been away. The Doctor of this story lacks self-awareness:
When Nyssa and Tegan returned from their curiosity-aroused exploration, a potentially dangerous habit he would have to steer them away from, the Doctor reminded himself, they could resume travelling.

The Doctor goes to the nearby city to look for them and explores "seven avenues".
There was no sign of life anywhere, and nothing to shed light on his companions' in-explicable disappearance! The Doctor knew that he could not search the entire city alone-and he did not intend to try-but, before he returned to the Tardis to rethink the situation, there was one more place he wanted to investigate: the giant, central pyramid that dominated the city.
Why did he not go there first? Silly Doctor.

It turns out there are alien natives on the planet. Given how simplistic these stories often are, there is a relatively sophisticated technique used to show (as opposed to 'tell') us what happens to the Doctor when he meets them.
Curious eyes turned on the Doctor. Silence and stillness hung in the air, then the leader, an old man, walked over to the Doctor. "You are a stranger," he said , smiling. "I am Sorl, of the North tribe."
The first thing that the Doctor thought when he regained consciousness was, so much for the Tardis's records. Harmless natives! He could still feel the lump from the single blow from a club that had knocked him to the ground!

The Doctor has been captured and, as we are now half way through the story, he meets a girl to give him the exposition about what is going on. Their ancient god Vi'Al has returned and demanded sacrifices, and they don't want the Doctor to interfere because they fear Vi'Al's wrath. But there are some natives that don't really believe that Vi'Al is a god, and they help the Doctor escape and get to the temple to see the sacrifices being made.

The natives even help him get a disguise.
Indicating his need to the natives, he watched as they scanned the rear of the crowd and moved off towards a man who stood alone. The natives surrounded the man and, when no one was watching, knocked him unconscious then dragged him into a nearby dwelling. The Doctor followed and had soon slipped the loose-fitting garment over his own clothes.

The Doctor sees Sorl and his followers sacrifice gem-stones to Vi'Al on the sacrificial stone of the pyramid.
The false god Vi'Al was going to be a very rich man!
This avoids the most obvious old cliched plot device of having Nyssa or Tegan be the sacrificial victim.

Sorl triggers the same stone that Nyssa and Tegan stepped on back in the first paragraph and, because he has worked out what is going on, the Doctor and three friendly natives run to where the gems are.
A stark and brilliant blue light enveloped the temple!
The Doctor felt his nerve-endings tingle with the after-effect of a teleport beam.

They are inside the pyramid, and when they go around looking for their friends who have been kidnapped by Vi'Al, discover that the pyramid has traps waiting to be triggered. Avoiding them, they find captors and captives:
Peering in, they saw five men sitting around a table, laughing and joking. Each man wore the odd and colourful garb of intergalactic pirates, and each man carried a laser blaster strung around his waist. These men were the false god Vi'Al!
Sadly there are no pictures of the pirates in their "odd and colourful garb", but since all the pictures for this story are just in blue then they may not have lived up to my imagination anyway. The Doctor rescues the captives while the natives decide to have a fight with the pirates.
As he climbed a set of steps to the surface with Nyssa and Tegan, the Doctor heard the crashing of falling stone deep below him.
"What was that?" gasped Nyssa.
"Booby traps," answered the Doctor. The sound of crashing stone was followed by the victory cry of the natives, and he knew that they had taken their revenge. The pirates had been entombed with their treasure, forever!

That is the end of the story, with the Doctor being oddly accepting of the natives' violent revenge-taking. There isn't much of the Doctor's character on display here, and Nyssa and Tegan only get three sentences of dialogue between them (and one of those is "Doctor!") so, on the whole, this is a generic story which makes only a token effort to avoid being a complete cliche and does not feel like a Doctor Who story at all.

The art - blueness aside - is the best thing about it, with Davo and both companions being recognisable still a rare, verging on unique, occurrence in the Doctor Who Books Project.

It would only have taken a small change for this story to become a crossover with Blakes 7. The five colourful pirates could have been the crew of Scorpio! using their teleport capability in a con to try and get wealthy. Obviously Avon wouldn't have been entombed forever; he'd have just teleported back to Scorpio! and they would have flown back to Xenon base to try another zany scheme next week. That sounds like a much better story to me, I shall have to write it...